There are some events in our lives when we believe there is no better place to be than right there in the moment.
That was my precise feeling recently when I heard David McCollough speak. The 74-year-old, two-time Pulitzer Prize-honored historian, author of numerous books including 1776, John Adams and Truman, captivated his audience with keen insights and compelling messages about the vital link we all have to our individual and collective past.
Among McCullough's key points was this one about the lessons we can learn from those who preceded us: "Everything we have in our culture, all cultures, is the result of someone leading the way for us, paving the path to an uncertain but inevitable future. By documenting the thoughts, deeds and determination of people who preceded us, we learn how to become the people we need to be."
The setting for the lecture was the launch of the Graham Center for Public Service at the University of Florida, named for one of Florida's and the nation's most distinguished public servants, Bob Graham. The center's prime mission is nurturing a new generation of public sector leaders to be the stewards of our sacred civic duty to participate in government and its core functions for improving our communities, nations and the world.
David McCollough spoke with eloquence about the importance of writing as an exercise in higher thought. He shared his perception that for lack of frequent and substantive writing, we are not reaching our full intellectual potential in our personal, family and community lives.
McCollough decried the retreat from the arts in our educational institutions and expressed his sincere concern that our cultural heritage cannot withstand a generation of neglect, for it may never be recaptured.
The messages I received from this once-in-a-lifetime experience resonate deeply as I advocate for creative approaches to bridge the generations. The wisdom of our elders, their treasury of experience, and the connection they hold to life's lessons are among our most valued assets as family members and a society.
Please join me in the understanding that the more we learn about our past, the more we are able to address the challenges of our future.
To learn more about David McCullough's life and works, I recommend this Wikipedia link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_McCullough
Please consider these 10 suggestions, rooted in the messages I heard from David McCollough:
1. Keep a journal, writing perceptions, observations and creative thoughts, with entries at least a few times per week. This routine will reward us with new ideas and create opportunities to contemplate new positive activities.
2. Share family history with loved ones by creating a remembrances album highlighting the names and key reflections on those who preceded us. Sharing special stories will give the younger generation the gift of recollection and belonging.
3. Write letters to family and friends whom we rarely see. While e-mail is convenient, an actual handwritten letter is a rare and cherished gift of personal contact across the miles.
4. Schedule occasional trips to historic sites and learn about the era, the events and the significance of the place.
5. Visit museums and absorb the various artistic and cultural offerings on display to nurture a new level of appreciation for the diversity that is human creation.
6. Advocate for a cause by expressing your opinion to elected officials who represent us. This nation was founded on the promise of representative government, and each of us has the opportunity and obligation to exercise our right to free speech.
7. Thank teachers for their dedication and support quality education by advocating a diverse curriculum that spans all of the arts, civic and cultural subjects our children need to be truly educated. The love of learning is truly one of humanity's essential attributes.
8. Read more literature, poetry and history, watch TV less, and give children the tools they need to better use their time in activities that stimulate their brains and build healthier bodies.
9. Visit with a neighbor, if just for a few minutes, to offer a friendly word and share a sense of connection and community.
10. Become the positive force and partner you wish others to be with kindness and consideration.
Jack Levine is the founder of the 4Generations Institute in Tallahassee. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.